Like a single guy in February or a barren woman in May, as a church planter, I dreaded “Pastor Appreciation Month.” It felt more like “Pastor Depression Month” to me. Every October my Facebook feed would fill with verbose accolades for the impact of other pastors, while my name lay suspiciously untagged in post after post.
I don’t know much about the origins of this holiday, but I suspect Hallmark had something to do with it, since the only information I can find online about how it started is on their corporate website.
I know, my feelings were immature and self-centered, but they were real, the popularity of Twitter accounts like the “Unappreciated Pastor” prove it. Church planting is filled with discouragement, unmet expectations and underwhelming results.
One planter wrote this about the all-too-common desire to give up in church planting:
One Sunday, in early October, during the early days of our church plant, I walked into the hotel ballroom we were meeting in just as service started and realized there was just one person in the seats. One. And I didn’t even know who she was. I blacked out at that point. Honestly. I don’t remember what I preached that day and I’m so glad we didn’t podcast back then. I went home and straight to bed. I was mortified. I was ready to quit.
The church I planted is 18 years old now and our meeting room is more full than empty. I’ve started to notice over the past few years that my view of the holiday has changed; it’s not so bad now. Of course, that might have something to do with the fact that every October my inbox and mailbox start to fill with greeting cards and gift cards and kind notes from people whose lives have been positively impacted by my work.
I am all for anything that celebrates pastors. But church planter, if you haven’t been on the receiving end of much appreciation, I have a little acrostic that will H.E.L.P. you get through your first few Octobers without anxiety attacks.
— Hold on. Like I mentioned above, things will get better as the church grows roots and the ministry stabilizes. When you are first starting on your church-planting journey, you’ll experience a form of church planter postpartum depression. This season is difficult but later, if you hold on, it will feel like a season of grace because of the maturity produced as a result of it.
— Expect nothing. When you go on a hike through the desert, you don’t expect to see a 7-Eleven; when you go into the boxing ring, you expect to get hit; and when you go into church planting, you should expect a long season of difficulty, frustration and isolation. If you go into church planting suited up with the full armor of God (Eph. 6:10-18) and no expectations for any positive reinforcement for a few years, you’ll likely weather the season much better. Too many church planters are victims of their own expectations.
— Limit comparisons. New churches that experience explosive growth are featured in books, blogs and popular conferences, leaving the average church planter feeling inadequate. For the good of your soul, limit your exposure to the success stories of other churches. Instead, focus your attention on the story God is writing about your new church. You may find it helpful to explore your expectations with this worksheet from Church Planting Thresholds.
— Press ahead. Sometimes church planters ask me, “What’s your No. 1 piece of church-planting advice?” My answer is always the same, Galatians 6:9 – “Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” In other words, “Don’t quit.” There will be moments when you will want to “throw in the towel”, “close up shop” and “put the church out if its misery.” I’m telling you, if God has called you to this work, he can keep you in this work – Just keep swimming.
Published October 12, 2022